February 5, 2017

“More Salt! More Light!”

 

Matthew 5:13-20

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Today, we celebrate the great American tradition of consuming a lot of food, sitting on the couch, and cheering for our enemies to get beaten into the ground. It’s about winners and losers, which is fine, if that mentality ceased when the clock strikes zero. If my team wins, I’m not going to walk around all week shouting “Rise Up” to everyone I see. If my team loses, I’m not going to go around calling the Patriots a bunch of dirty cheaters. My life is about more than who wins and loses.

 

I can’t say that for many people. We like to break ourselves up into groups that fall on either side of a world’s worth of fences. Whether politics or sports or our favorite contestant on the Bachelor, we like to be Team this or Team that. We like having winners and losers. I’m thankful for today’s passage that reminds us that we are more than winners and losers. We’re disciples.

 

Jesus finishes his great Beatitudes section of the Sermon on the Mount by reminding his disciples that religious people of his day were often guilty of seeing folks as “winners” or “losers,” too. Sinners were punished and the righteous were blessed. Jesus upends the whole thing by telling them that the example they live is how they will be judged by God – not how well they argue their point of view. They are to be like salt and light: two things that mean so little at first glance but have a world of meaning when we think about who Christ is and what he came here to do.

 

Salt is a transformational good. It gives life to lifeless things. It is how we enjoy the first vine-ripened tomato of the season. It brings out the fatty goodness of bacon. When Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be the salt of the earth, he is telling them they are called to give the world flavor, or zest. People need life to be an enjoyable experience; it needs transformation.

 

There are many today who live without saltiness. I see them everywhere – glued to devices in state parks, or so busy they never seem to relax, or folks who love drama and find ways to stir the social pot to get a rouse out of folks. People who see the world in terms of winning and losing have no salt.

 

Light is also transformational. It gives nutrients for things to grow. It helps those of us with vision the ability to see around us. Light gives warmth. Fun fact: people in Scandinavian cultures tend to have high happiness rates in spite of the bone-chilling winters they experience because they practice hygge, an internal sense of coziness. By making their spaces cozier and spending more time cuddling with loved ones, they cultivate an inner warmth that transcends the bodily cold they feel. I think that is an excellent example of living with light.

 

In recent weeks, I have become keenly aware that a lot of people live without purpose and meaning – salt and light – because they suffer. They suffer because they have personal issues; they suffer because they cannot be open and honest with others; they suffer from lack of a good home, a good job, or a place to feel safe.

 

There are lots of people who suffer. Many of us disagree on how to handle suffering, but I think we all know it when we see it. We know darkness when we experience it. Out here, I don’t think we see the darkness as often, but I know it exists. It exists when judgment is passed on the less fortunate; it exists when we see people as labels and not as children of God; it exists when we hear mean phrases about whites, blacks, liberals, conservatives, poor trash, and so on. We are all guilty of ignoring the darkness sometimes. We might even be guilty of causing it.

 

I see and hear a lot of that. Instead of tackling the problems of the world, we just argue about what way is the best. We devolve into winners and losers. I’m not even being political here – everybody does it. We think the way we agree with handling suffering is the best way. We think we can decide who deserves our attention and who doesn’t. Jesus already told us who to help – the vulnerable and the marginalized. He doesn’t mention county lines, city limits, or national borders. He didn’t say only those who are in your immediate vicinity. He said anytime we see the poor, the orphan, and the widow, we must have a heart for them. Think what you will about refugees’ political status, but if you encounter a refugee, you are bearing witness to Christ, and God expects you to be gracious and merciful.

 

If we want to have any chance of transforming the world, we cannot get stuck in the saltless and lightless world of arguments and comment wars. We cannot see issues plaguing the world as matters of winning and losing – our argument over the others’. We are called to offer salt and light – purpose, hope, and meaning. We must speak kind words, pray for our neighbors and for our enemies, and ask God to fill our hearts with joy and mercy.

 

Once we have shown the light inside of us – the light of Christ – we can then start illuminating where other light is. We can put our lights together. That way, we spread more light. It doesn’t help to tell each other whose light gets to be shown. Jesus said shine, so we all must shine.

 

The mission of the church is to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Most of what I see and hear people talking about and placing value on is transforming ourselves, being happier, and taking care of our wants and needs. Sure, we all need personal transformation, but it doesn’t end there.  John Wesley often spoke of practical divinity – the idea that as God works in us, it has to affect more than us. Only working on ourselves stifles the light we have been given. Transformation means going from what we want to what God wants.

 

That is what our vision is about. We are called to be transformational. We cannot be satisfied with just coming to church on Sunday and picking and choosing when to be Christians during the week. We have to be more generous, more gracious, more loving, and for goodness sake – don’t add to the negative noise in the world.

 

For the next three weeks, in worship, we are going to talk about prayer and how to live by God’s law. Our calling requires us to be Christ’s hands and feet. Let’s listen and pray for what that is. Let our vision for the year be bold. I will start asking more and more how we as a church can be the salt and light of Charlotte. We will have a meeting about Vision and come together to discern how God is calling us through our prayers to be Christ in the world.

 

 

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